Walter Figueira hoping to show early benefits of Derry City's painful' preseason in Drogheda tonight
Walter Figueira is hoping he can show Derry City fans the early benefits of an intense pre-season training regime as the forward gets excited about putting on the Candy Stripes jersey for the first time in Drogheda tonight.
The talented former Chelsea youth became Declan Devine’s first close season signing in late November 2019 and has had plenty of time to get used to his new surroundings on Foyleside.
However, he admits nothing prepared him for an unforgiving pre-season training campaign. There was no easing into the sessions and Figueira reckons the team are, remarkably, set to be fitter than last season should they maintain that intensity on the training ground.
The City players began preparations for tonight’s opening pre-season fixture at United Park with a triple session on Monday which involved swimming during the morning, indoor football followed by an upper body gym programme in the evening.
With four weeks remaining before the club kick-off the new season against Dundalk at Oriel Park, Figueira has welcomed the first of a packed pre-season fixture schedule this month which will also include games against Finn Harps, Institute and Portadown amongst others.
“It’s been tough but Declan (Devine) has been on to us about how important it is in terms of mindset, being the fittest in the league and making sure we can compete with the guys at the top,” said the Londoner.
“We’re all on board. We just want to keep working hard and looking forward to the season. Last year the team went all the way in games. They took Dundalk to extra-time in the cup and still looked strong. We’re trying to improve those fitness levels and become a stronger team, a harder team to beat - that’s the aim.”
The training has been more intense than he’s been accustomed to since making the move to Ireland given he joined Waterford midway through last season but he’s confident the hard work will pay off.
“I came to Waterford fairly late in the season,” he explained. “I came at the end of July so didn’t do a pre-season with them and the training was nowhere near what we’re doing here at Derry.
“When the season ended I was in the gym and looking forward to being here so it’s not hurting as much but it’s a good intensity. It will show in games and I’m really looking forward to that.
“I’ve just got to make sure I stay fit, make sure off the field I’m eating well and that I’m really concentrated. We’ve got to make sure that (preparation) comes into games as well and makes it all worth it. I’m sure it will but I’m looking forward to playing an actual game.”
Getting out on the pitch for an 11 aside match will be a welcome change to the intensive running sessions they’ve had to endure of late.
“There’s been ball work as well,” said Figueira. “I’d say it’s been around 65 per cent running and 35 per cent ball work but it’s slowly changing around.
“Today we were swimming which was tough and there’s all various types of fitness stuff we’re doing. It’s important to still have quality with the football whilst your tired. The majority of time we’re doing a lot of running in the beginning and then doing ball work. The quality is showing.
“We’re all taking our fitness levels seriously. Everyone is on the same page. Of course we’re all trying to understand each other’s style of play right now when we get into the ball sessions but it’s been good. I’m really looking forward to Friday to see how it all gels.”
It will be the first opportunity for Devine’s players to put their early pre-season plans into practise and Figueira can’t wait to get out on the pitch.
“I’m looking forward to Friday, I can tell you that,” he enthused. “It’s been painful but no pain, no gain, right? I’m looking forward to seeing where we are at because I know we’re definitely fatigued but if we can get a result and look like a team on Friday then it will be very, very positive.”
Those City fans who make the journey south tonight will get a first glimpse of the ex-Waterford man in action for the Brandywell club. He proved a thorn in Derry sides last season on his debut in a 4-2 defeat for the Blues at Brandywell, scoring in either half and it was that EA Sports Cup semi-final defeat last August which sowed the seeds for his eventual transfer to Derry City.
With Devine now light on attacking options following the departures of Michael McCrudden (Cliftonville), Conor Davis (Cork City), David Parkhouse (Sheffield Utd), Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe (Colchester) and with Barry McNamee’s future in doubt, Figueira’s versatility could prove vital.
With Stephen Mallon, a naturally left-sided winger joining on loan from Sheffield United, it frees Figueira to move into a more central role and tonight’s match may offer an insight into where Devine envisages the forward playing. Figueira, though, is willing to play wherever needed.
“We all know what we want to do, especially the attacking players. Parkhouse and Junior set a benchmark so, of course, we want to replicate that and more.
“We need to get goals from other areas as well and make sure we’re a threat from our centre backs onwards. Of course there are targets we want to hit and I’m sure we will but that will come with time. If we keep training hard and getting the friendlies in, we’ll start to understand each other a lot more. It’s looking promising though.”
In terms of where he sees himself on the pitch, Figueira isn’t overly concerned.
”I’m very versatile and that helps Declan a lot with team selection. Even for myself, it gives me the chance to play in various positions. I’m willing to give 100 per cent in any position I play in.
“I’m effective in a number of positions. Right now it’s about being fit. We’re all aware of the ability at the club, now we just have to make sure everyone is willing to run and be absolutely burst by the final whistle, giving it their all, and then be prepared to go again the following week.
“That’s the mindset the manager is slowly implementing and it’s working.”